The Blame Israel First Game Insults Palestinians and Prolongs the Conflict

OP-EDS & REVIEWS

By Gil Troy, Jerusalem Post, 10-11-11

It remains one of the Israeli-Arab conflict’s great mysteries and irritants – with numerous occurrences this September. Israel is trapped in an asymmetrical blame game, not just an asymmetrical war.  The Arabs, particularly the Palestinians, are like the obnoxious younger sisters on those awful “tween” TV shows. They usually cause the mischief, yet somehow the Israelis shoulder the blame – like Drake and Josh when terrorized by Megan.

How is it that Egypt and Turkey, for their own respective domestic reasons, spoil relations with Israel – yet the American Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta, echoing the conventional wisdom, chides Israel for becoming isolated?

How is it that, despite rejecting Ehud Olmert’s generous land swap, setting preconditions for negotiations, and negating Israel’s historic national rights, Mahmoud Abbas is considered “moderate” and, as the New York Times recently editorialized, “The main responsibility right now belongs to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel who refuses to make any serious compromises for peace?” This comes after Netanyahu, the alleged obstructionist, embraced a two-state solution and temporarily froze settlement growth – with no results.

And consider the mass outrage if an Israeli threw a rock at a passing Palestinian car, triggering a crash that killed a 25-year-old father and his one-year-old son, as happened with the recent, mostly overlooked, double-murder of Asher Palmer and Yonatan Palmer.

Or imagine the outcry – and the probable breach in relations – if Israelis protested against President Barack Obama by waving disgusting racist placards depicting him as a monkey – which happened at a Palestinian protest – yet no leaders denounced it. Actually, there is no need to imagine. Many leftists still loathe Netanyahu for implicitly inciting violence by not denouncing some extremists carrying posters depicting Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin in Nazi uniform nearly twenty years ago.

Israel is neither perfect nor blameless, but the asymmetry is glaring – and insulting to Palestinians and Jews. Making the Palestinians the spoiled brats of the world, the perpetual victims, robs them of self-respect and what academics call “agency” – the dignity of owning their actions. This radical-left condescension, always treating Westerners or whites as responsible, good or bad, reduces Third Worlders to bystanders. Just as many of us, including Shimon Peres and Benjamin Netanyahu, condemned the “Price Tag” Mosque vandals last week, Palestinians and their leaders must repudiate bloodshed, from rocks to rocket fire, consistently, sincerely — and stop inciting violence.  Holding Palestinians morally accountable for their actions and actions taken in their name reflects respect, judging them by the same behavioral standards we impose on ourselves.

This tendency to understate Israeli moderation and overstate Israeli sins while overstating Palestinian moderation and understating Palestinian sins reflects the harmful effects of the lengthy delegitimization campaign against Israel.

Delegitimization – an ugly word for an ugly phenomenon – is a form of bigotry, a hateful exercise in selective perception, harping on Israeli foibles, ignoring Israeli virtues, now escalated into an obsession treating the Palestinian-Israel conflict as unduly central in world affairs.  Even if it did not build on traditional anti-Semitism, this campaign would epitomize prejudice, actually, one of the last few politically correct prejudices in today’s world.

Delegitimization escalates the Palestinian-Israeli conflict from questions of borders and land rights conducive to negotiation and compromise to a life-and-death, zero-sum clash between good and evil. It elevates criticisms about controversial or wrongful state actions into doctrinal assaults such as “Zionism is Racism” and the Apartheid lie.  This inflammatory approach is a major obstacle to peace.

Both the Palestinian free pass and the perpetual indictment against Israel stem from the late 1960s and 1970s. At the time, Yasir Arafat and the PLO, aided by skilled propagandists such as Columbia University Professor Edward Said, framed their local narrative of woe as part of a global struggle. Exploiting the rise of a global mass media, and what Said called the twentieth century’s “generalizing tendency,” the Palestinians hijacked Third World solidarity talk while hijacking their way onto the world’s agenda. Understanding that, post-Vietnam, weakness could be a PR virtue, they portrayed themselves as victims of Western imperialism and colonialism. Coached by Soviet propagandists, perversely comparing Israel to South Africa and Nazi Germany, they injected race into Palestinian nationalist rhetoric, culminating in the UN’s infamous 1975 Zionism is racism resolution.

Radical New Left elites welcomed this farce. A new totalitarian mindset among the Third Worldist Left subordinated facts to broader black-and-white political worldviews. Seeing the world through this ideological prism romanticized but infantilized those deemed to be people of color, casting them in the role of perpetual victim, automatically guilt-free, while demonizing those deemed white and thus powerful. The Palestinians embraced the identity as the ultimate victimized people of color treating Israelis as evil Western whites.

Four decades later, this delegitimization campaign is ubiquitous, like the unseen pollution fouling our air. Many people who consciously reject Palestinian extremism, abhor terrorism, and are not explicitly anti-Israel have absorbed the ideological equivalent of second-hand smoke. They have become conditioned to blame Westerners first in viewing most conflicts, blaming Israel most of all. This is the more subtle yet toxic anti-Israel bias that clouds many media, academic, and diplomatic discussions of Israel, resulting in what has become an instinctive, unconscious, ubiquitous myopia.

This Sukkot festival, as we think about the different structures humans construct — real and imagined, good and bad, lasting and temporary — let us try dismantling these harmful, artificial constructs. Rather than being bitter, we should build a Sukkat Shalom, of genuine peace based on mutual respect and acceptance of mutual responsibility leading to real reconciliation. May this Sukkah be authentic and lasting, containing neither the politically-correct magnifying glass that exaggerates every Israeli and Western imperfection nor the Harry Potter-style invisibility cloak that hides Israeli peace gestures and Palestinian provocations.

Gil Troy is Professor of History at McGill University and a Shalom Hartman Research Fellow in Jerusalem. The author of “Why I Am a Zionist: Israel, Jewish Identity and the Challenges of Today,” his latest book is “The Reagan Revolution: A Very Short Introduction.” giltroy@gmail.com

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Why won’t forces against delegitimization admit they are Zionist?

By Gil Troy, Jerusalem Post, 5-9-11

At the recent, impressive, left-to-right, rookies-meet-veterans, American Jewish Committee Access/Reut conference against delegitimization, held in Washington, DC, I again encountered a bizarre phenomenon. Many American Jews now understand the need to combat those who escalate attacks on specific Israeli policies into attacks on Israel’s right to exist. These activists reject those who would rather demonize Israel than work for peace. But they recoil from calling themselves “Zionist” despite being Zionist, given their support for the Jewish people’s rights to their national homeland in Israel. These Pro-Israel-Forces-Against-Delegitimization (call them PIFADs) usually use the word “Zionist” with the prefix “anti.” They admit to fighting anti-Zionism but, unlike Australians and South Americans among others, won’t admit they are Zionist. This approach keeps PIFADs defensive, letting their enemies define the battlefield. Fighting “delegitimization” without championing Zionism is like opposing slavery without endorsing freedom.

When I talk Zionism to PIFADs, they tell me that the age of “isms” is over, that “Zionism” does not poll well, that the term makes young Jews uncomfortable, that the Z-word is associated with the unreasonable right, not with the centrists and leftists so essential to success, especially on campuses.

But running away from “Zionism” is cowardly and self-destructive. PIFADs risk legitimizing the delegitimizers by internalizing Zionism’s delegitimization.

“Delegitimization” is a polysyllabic mouthful, an abstraction few outside the pro-Israel community understand. We can never a win a fight against the delegitimization of Israel by surrendering to the decades-long campaign delegitimizing Zionism, the movement which established Israel. If a century ago Zionism brought pride back to the term “Jew,” today, Jews – including Israelis – must bring pride back to the term “Zionist.”

In Nigger: The Strange Career of a Troublesome Word, the African-American scholar Randall Kennedy demonstrates the “protean nature” of all terms, especially in politics. Words are magical, containing the power to hurt or heal, to kill or save. Groups win fights by using the magic of words to define them and their aims – and they lose fights by letting others define them. If African-Americans can redefine “the N-word,” if Gays can transform “Queer” into a rallying cry, if women can march to “Take Back the Night,” why can’t pro-Israel activists resurrect the proud label “Zionist”?

The pro-Israel camp is abandoning Zionism because of the systematic campaign singling out one form of nationalism, Jewish nationalism, meaning Zionism, as racist. Radical leftists and Islamists united in their Red-Green Alliance against Zionism – overriding disagreements regarding gay rights, women’s rights, and basic civil liberties. Most Americans have rejected this New Big Lie and still support Israel. But, David Olesker of the Jerusalem Center for Communication and Advocacy Training notes, that “the one area where the delegitimization campaign has made inroads on campus is amongst Jewish students.” Even if most Jews reject the Arab stereotype of Zionism, they have endured enough embarrassment over this oft-targeted term to want to flee from it.

This retreat is self-defeating, especially now when we need a Big Tent Zionism, committing right and left to three ideas: Jews are a people; Jews deserve a state; and the Jewish state belongs in the land of Israel, the Jewish homeland. Endorsing Big Tent Zionism demonstrates our latitude to debate particular Israeli policies while agreeing on Israel’s right to exist. Championing Big Tent Zionism allows leftists to prove their patriotism mixed with their criticism and rightists to demonstrate tolerance mixed with their nationalism.

Zionism cannot belong to the right. Just as the only two Democrats to win America’s presidency since 1980 knew to champion family, faith, and the flag, pro-Israel advocates must learn from Bill Clinton and Barack Obama to treat Zionism as a magic word uniting all who by opposing delegitimization support the legitimacy of the Zionist project, meaning the Jewish state, meaning Israel.

PIFADs should go “poof” and magically transform into Zionists. Beyond the tactical decision to resurrect the term, we need an ideological renewal – in Israel and the Diaspora – reminding us that Zionists do not just defend the Jewish state, but aspire to fulfill its Jewish-democratic ideals. We need an educational resurgence, embracing the challenge advanced by Professor Kenneth Stein of Emory University, to make all Jews as familiar with Israel as they are with the Four Questions. We need an institutional reorientation, reintroducing and reintegrating Zionism into our schools, camps, synagogues, clubs, advocacy groups, in the Diaspora and Israel. And we need a personal reappraisal, finding the “I” in Zionist, repositioning each of us to fit into the Jewish story and the Zionist narrative.

In the musical “South Pacific,” Emile DeBecque asks an American soldier, “I know what you are against, what are you for?” I am for a Big Tent Zionism, which mourns together on Yom HaZikaron, celebrates on Yom Ha’atzmaut, then dukes it out over strategies, tactics, borders, and dreams on other days. I am for a Rainbow Zionism which identifies “red lines” we don’t cross in criticizing Israel, such as delegitimizing comparisons to South African Apartheid and Nazism, while affirming “blue and white lines,” our common beliefs (delineated at http://www.restoringsanity.info). I am for an Aspirational Zionism which embraces our Altneuland – Old-New land – to fulfill personal and collective dreams. I am for a Smart Zionism which targets its many enemies but avoids words like “traitor” when criticizing friends, and dodges distracting, self-destructive brouhahas like the recent opposition to granting the playwright Tony Kushner an honorary degree, which was bound to be caricatured as a McCarthyite attempt to squelch free speech. And I am for a Proud Zionism, which refuses to let our enemies define us, our divisions distract us, or our fears paralyze us, but reminds us how lucky we are to undertake this wonderfully challenging project of building a modern, safe, democratic Jewish state in our traditional homeland.

Gil Troy is Professor of History at McGill University and a Shalom Hartman Research Fellow in Jerusalem. The author of Why I Am a Zionist: Israel, Jewish Identity and the Challenges of Today. His latest book The Reagan Revolution:  A Very Short Introduction, was recently published by Oxford University Press. giltroy@gmail.com

Why do we need a Jewish state anyway?

By Gil Troy, Jerusalem Post, March 8, 2011

Newsflash: Theodor Herzl’s Europe is gone. Most Jews today live in welcoming, open, civil societies like the US and Canada.

By all indications, Israel Apartheid Week, that intellectual and ideological abomination I call Anti-Israel Week, is a flop.

Apartheid did not mean keeping peoples apart; it separated individuals by race. IAW’s institutional infrastructure is as shoddy as its intellectual foundations. Scattered, poorly-attended events by noname political hacks take on global pretensions because a website lists about 60 locations where these events take place in March. Just as you cannot transpose apartheid’s color-obsessed racism to the national conflict between Israelis and Palestinians, IAW represents marginal local events, not a mass movement.

Still, as Rahm Emanuel taught, never waste a crisis – or the appearance of one – especially because spreading big lies against Israel has become a global pasttime. But while mocking IAW’s failure, and condemning Palestinians’ political culture for not identifying this apartheid lie and delegitimization business as obstacles to peace, we need positive messages. Let’s ask the real question behind today’s Zionist questioning – why do we need a Jewish state, anyway?

Newsflash: Theodor Herzl’s Europe is gone. Most Jews today live in welcoming, open, civil societies like the US and Canada. A modern Zionism reacting to anti-Semitism is old-fashioned. Today, even in France, Jew haters like designer John Galliano are disgraced and fired, not lionized.

This good news feeds a growing split among Jews. For Israeli Jews, a Jewish state encourages the natural expression of the Jewish people’s right to self-determination. The French have France, Germans have Germany, the Dutch have the Netherlands, Jews have Israel. As Daniel Patrick Moynihan said, Zionism began “as nothing more than the assertion that the Jews were a people and had the same rights to nationhood that other such people were then asserting.”

The Jewish state’s Jewishness is also normal. Once we understand that Judaism involves a national identity and not just a religious identity, a Jewish state can be democratic yet not theocratic. Such national-cultural expression is not unique to Israel. In most countries the majority culture enjoys the right to shape the public character, yet democratic countries nevertheless protect minorities’ full political and civic rights. The UK might have a cross on its flag and a national church at its collective heart, the US has “In God We Trust” on its currency and a national holiday on Christmas, yet atheists and non- Christians enjoy full civil rights in both.

But why should happy American Jews, who have never visited Israel and will never live there, care about a Jewish state; what’s in it for them?

TO ANSWER that question, we must define what Judaism is, noting the central assumption shaping the previous paragraphs – that Jews are a people. Judaism is not just a religion. Years ago, my teacher Dr. Steve Copeland compared Judaism to an Oreo cookie – just as the Oreo requires both cream and cookie parts, Judaism entails overlapping religious and national parts.

Is Passover a holiday of religious redemption or national liberation? “Yes.” Is the Western Wall a holy religious site or a national historical site? Again, “yes.”

Belonging to a people, not just a religion, fills our identity. It roots us in the sweep of history, binds us to a community, connects us to a rich values conversation, ties us to national moments, making us a part of something bigger than our selves. In a world where for most Westerners the physical basics – food, clothing, shelter – are covered, but where we often feel emotionally, ideologically, existentially starved, naked and exposed, we are lucky to have this peoplehood treasure trove.

I am not arrogant enough to claim that Jewish stories, ethics, ideas or ideals are the best; nor am I foolish enough to renounce these wonderful frameworks that deepen my life and my family life – and belong to us.

If you like peoplehood, you should love statehood. “The essence of the Zionist argument is that to express a national identity to its fullest, territory is basic,” Prof. Ruth Gavison teaches. “You need a majority culture, not just a minority culture where you are in constant conversation with the host culture.”

Especially for nonreligious Jews, but then again, especially for religious Jews, having a national Jewish culture enhances, enriches, encourages and ennobles Jewish identity.

Just this week, another study showed that camps offering 24/7 Judaism build Jewish identity. Having a Jewish state takes 24/7 Judaism to a higher, more natural level, living in Jewish space, not just Jewish time, with a full-time symphony of Jewish sounds, smells, tastes, events, memories, associations, connections, values and dreams. No state is perfect, but our core values can improve it. While Israelis define different forms of political Zionism, Diaspora Jews should cultivate identity Zionism based on four Bs – Being Jewish provides a sense of Belonging, which helps in Becoming a better, more idealistic, more fulfilled person through our home Base.

Any homeland places an individual into a lifelong color movie rather than an occasional black-and-white snapshot; our homeland is consecrated by history. Just as in antiquing a 4,000-year-old jug is infinitely more precious than a four-day-old cup, just as in baseball a hitting streak becomes exponentially more significant with each new plateau, our relationship with Israel is magnified by its age, and by our many-layered connections to this place.

Herzl was right. In what he called the altneuland, old-new land, we can enjoy the best of today and yesterday, creating a dynamic modern identity anchored in tradition. Such dynamism should be embraced and celebrated, which is why our holidays use memories to affirm values, and why we would never devote a week to denigrating others.

The writer is professor of history at McGill University in Montreal, a Shalom Hartman research fellow in Jerusalem and the author of Why I Am a Zionist: Israel, Jewish Identity and the Challenges of Today and The Reagan Revolution: A Very Short Introduction. giltroy@gmail.com